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College Bookstores Move to Put Electronic Textbooks on Their Shelves

It will now be easier for students to find electronic versions of textbooks at several college bookstores, thanks to a new partnership between textbook publishers and an association of college booksellers. But will students choose the paperless option?

The arrangement, announced this week, will give more prominent placement at dozens of college bookstores to electronic textbooks offered through CourseSmart, a venture owned by five major textbook companies. The deal involves CourseSmart and the Collegiate Retail Alliance, which represents 52 independent college bookstores.

Participating bookstores will now display cards near certain books that students can buy instead of the printed book, said Richard W. McDaniel, founder and president of the alliance. Each card contains an access code that, once it is authorized, grants students the ability to download the digital copy via CourseSmart. The bookstores’ Web sites will also clearly offer the electronic versions when they are available, thanks to software developed by the alliance.

Mr. McDaniel argued that one reason electronic textbooks have been slow to catch on is that they have not been available for most titles — and when they have been, they have been hard for students to find. “The market for textbooks is really two weeks long — at the beginning of each term,” he said. “Having it at the right place at the right time at that core two-week period is critical,” he said of the e-book option.

The question now is what students end up choosing when a cheaper, digital option is available right next to the old-fashioned printed textbook. —Jeffrey R. Young

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